Commercials are an actors bread and butter. They are a big cash earner and the most common thing you will audition for, especially early in your career. They also require a unique style of performance distinct from theatre and film and TV. And finally, they may also test out your improvisational skills which can be daunting if you aren’t prepared for that. Finally, they are generally very fast-paced with a lot of competition so you will need to be on your game and ready to rumble if you’re going to take home that paycheque. Here is what you can expect at a commercial audition!
Commercial scripts, can be really weird. Not only in their content but in the layout of the thing as well. Quite often they are written by advertising people and don’t conform to the standard of script layouts that you get with plays or film and TV. Check the shoot dates and make sure you are available first, and raise any conflicts with your agent. If you have any lines, learn the pants out of them. Know that once you are in the room, you will have a maximum of 10 minutes from start to finish. If you can’t get out the line as written in that time with the right energy you’re not booking this gig. Once you know your lines, take note of the action in the scene and have an idea of how you’re going to approach it. If it works for you to rehearse the whole thing multiple times over – then do it!
I recently did a fast-food ad audition where the action took place in a shopping centre car park, two guys pushing each other in trolleys and doing some dialogue. That action is going to inform the delivery of my line and I didn’t spend enough time thinking about that, or even messing around at home on a desk chair with wheels to get a feel for it. In the audition, this meant I was pre-occupied with the action, as opposed to the relationship with my scene partner and the dialogue I had to deliver. I didn’t get the gig and missed out on some big opportunities. Long story short, learn from my mistakes people, know your lines intimately, and play around with doing them along with the action of the scene.
The waiting room
Get in early, but not too early. You want to arrive at the casting directors between 10 and 15 minutes ahead of your audition time. If you are there earlier than that, head round the corner and grab a coffee. This might just be a personal preference but I find waiting around in the casting room watching all these people come in and out and tends to add to my anxiety rather than reduce it. Once you’re in the waiting room, try and listen to what is happening inside the casting as much as you can. Don’t go full CIA and put your ear to the door, but have an awareness of the size of the performances that are occurring, and the feedback that’s being given. Are they jumping around and yelling and screaming? Or is it quiet as a grave in there? Also take note of how many takes they’re giving actors. This may inform your performance to come or at least give you an idea of what you’re in for.
There is a lot of conjecture around waiting room chat. I have had other actors in the past attempt to put me off by offering misinformation in the casting room before I head into the audition. My advice would be, chat to anyone who opens a dialogue but don’t feel the need to be overly social. Concentrate on what you have to do, and the scene to come.
The casting room
Greet the casting team, they will already know who you are generally, because they’ve been looking at your headshot all morning. You will be asked to do a slate, they will take a few photos of you holding up the sheet with your name. For the slate they will generally ask for your name, agent and height, if you are available for the shoot dates (check that you are when you’re in the waiting room at the latest!) and potentially dietary restrictions or specific skills you may have depending on the audition. Vegans don’t tend to love doing Macca’s ads for example (although it has happened!) Make sure you are confident, happy and smiley for the slate (both the photos and in the video) – the client and the director will watch these tapes back, and it always pays to be comfortable and friendly in these clips.
Now we are ready to roll, the casting director will give you some instructions for how they want the scene to go, you may be required to throw away everything you prepared and go with a new interpretation. You will more than likely be asked to improvise at some point. And you will almost always be miming something! Casting Directors don’t have juicy hamburgers prepared for you – at best it will be a slice of white bread, and at worst – you’ll have to completely mime it.
Now folks, impro is a skill. On the surface, it’s alarmingly simple and yet monumentally deceiving in its difficulty. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘Yes and..’ the idea that if someone gives you an offer of an idea, you accept it and build on it. This is the cornerstone of impro. In commercial auditions it is used frequently by casting directors as a means of getting around either tricky bits of action or to add life into a moment which feels a bit dead. My advice here is if you have an impulse, follow it to its biggest extent, being memorable and funny is a clear route to booking ad work.
But please, please, please ensure that your actions are safe, sane and consensual. This includes touching another actor in any way. A quick moment of ‘Hey this time I might give you a hug is that okay?” etc. before the camera starts rolling is all the conversation needs to be. Talk to your scene partner and the casting director and if everyone is happy – go for the biggest funniest choice you can muster. Don’t be afraid of your choices being TOO big – you can always bring it back.
Generally speaking, the size of your ad performance sits somewhere between theatre and film and tv. There is a trend in a lot of ads at the moment for very understated deadpan humour. I have also booked ads where I have been tearing around the room like a madman, improvising furiously. I think it’s better to start with a performance that is slightly bigger, and errs on the side of comedy rather than an intimate performance erring on the side of drama. Bigger is better folks. If the casting director needs you to reign it in they will ask.
This is absolutely key. The best thing you can do in a commercial audition is: be as authentically you as possible. Really try and put yourself under the imagined circumstances of the ad and live in that world for a moment or three. All the commercials I have ever booked have been moments where I have allowed myself to be incredibly authentically genuine and a little bit silly under imagined circumstances. They are getting you in to see your look, and your energy in the script they’ve concocted, don’t get in the way of them doing that.
And just like that, you’re thanking the casting director, saying cheers to your other actors and heading out and about for the rest of your day. I always like to have something to do lined up straight after an audition, that way you can let it go quickly while you move onto your next activity. Go to the gym, do some work, have a play to read with a friend or a day job lined up. What you want to avoid is sitting there, obsessing over your choices, or imagining all the ways you could spend that cash! Walk outside, get on with your day and keep moving forward.
So that’s what to expect at a commercial audition. Generally speaking they’re short, they’re fun and they are high energy. Prepare well, have fun in the casting room and let it go as soon as you step out the door. Good luck and I hope you book your next one!